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Love and Empire by Erik Orsenna
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Love and Empire (original 1988; edition 1991)

by Erik Orsenna (Author), Jeremy Leggatt (Translator)

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1334151,300 (3.17)4
Winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt award and now available in English is the French novel Love and Empire by Erik Orsenna. The hero and narrator of this witty, enchanting story is Gabriel, and the plot centers around his love for two sisters, Ann and Clara. Packed with digressions and subplots, it is a fascinating novel bound to captivate American readers.… (more)
Member:Albert_911
Title:Love and Empire
Authors:Erik Orsenna (Author)
Other authors:Jeremy Leggatt (Translator)
Info:Harpercollins (1991), Edition: 1st, 487 pages
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Love and Empire by Erik Orsenna (1988)

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English (2)  Dutch (1)  French (1)  All languages (4)
Showing 2 of 2
Orsenna's novel L'exposition coloniale won both the main Prix Goncourt and the Goncourt des Lycéens in 1988. It's a book full of half-buried jokes and false trails, from the title down - although the great Paris Colonial Exhibition of 1931 does (eventually) play a small part in the book, it's the book itself that is an "exhibition" of the history of the foolishly optimistic dreams that were behind the notion of French colonialism from its early days in the 1880s to its collapse at Dien Bien Phu in 1954.

That history is mirrored by the life of the main character and sometimes narrator, Gabriel Orsenna, whose father, the dreamy bookseller Louis, spent his early life preparing for a career in the colonies but resigned on the eve of being sent overseas, driven into a panic by everything he had read about tropical diseases.

Gabriel is a little man with a bouncy personality who finds himself attracted from an early age by one of the key colonial commodity products, rubber, and makes his career with a large Clermont-Ferrand-based tyre company, "La Manufacture", which gives Orsenna plenty of opportunities to show us French colonial failures in action. (Obviously, Orsenna doesn't want to infringe the trademarks of any real companies that might be manufacturing tyres in that part of France, but he does drop a few hints that we might find a resemblance between Gabriel and a certain official mascot...) In 1913, he's in Brazil, trying to bring rubber-growing back to life there after it has been all-but wiped out by competition from British plantations in Asia; in the early 50s, he's in the collapsing colony of Indochina, and in between he's with the company's motor-sport department, trying to prove French superiority over the Germans and Italians on the Grand Prix circuit.

However big and all-embracing this book appears to be, it is primarily a book about how the metropolitan French thought of their colonies, not about how colonialism was experienced by the people whose countries they were colonising. Which means that some of the most obvious things you would expect to be said in a book about colonialism simply don't arise: it is normally only with hindsight that large-scale abuses of human rights become part of the general perceptions of people in the countries in whose names they are perpetrated. Although there are good plot reasons for such things not being there, it does occasionally give you an uncomfortable feeling.

This is a lively, chatty sort of book, and it certainly doesn't have the kind of gravitas you might expect from a major doorstep novel by a heavy-duty French intellectual. Everywhere you look, there are querulous footnotes, as Gabriel's wife and sister-in-law read through the manuscript and cast doubt on his assertions; when that joke is wearing a bit thin and we have got used to the false trails that might make this a history of the Orsenna family, had an Orsenna family ever really existed, the author simply throws in some joke character-names. On arrival in England during WWII, for instance, Gabriel is interviewed by an MI5 officer called Cornwell - we're led on along a bogus trail of associations for several pages before he gives the officer the first name "George" and we remember that the real David Cornwell would still have been at school in 1943...

Fun, but perhaps hasn't aged quite as well as it might have. ( )
  thorold | Jan 4, 2019 |
""
  rouzejp | Sep 2, 2015 |
Showing 2 of 2
Ce gros roman bavard et loufoque se moque gentiment de ses personnages.
added by thorold | editLe Monde (Aug 24, 2009)
 

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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Erik Orsennaprimary authorall editionscalculated
Calatayud, EmmaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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Winner of the prestigious Prix Goncourt award and now available in English is the French novel Love and Empire by Erik Orsenna. The hero and narrator of this witty, enchanting story is Gabriel, and the plot centers around his love for two sisters, Ann and Clara. Packed with digressions and subplots, it is a fascinating novel bound to captivate American readers.

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